Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Barkley



Forget the candles, I want something that goes "Boom!"

It's Barkley's 7th birthday tomorrow, exactly one month before mine (and if you're curious, in dog years, I'm dead). I think back to one hot day, when he was about seven weeks old and . . .

A small farm in Ohio.



I can't believe he was ever that small. His Mom's owner took me to him and a huge cluster of little black dogs, rounding the corner to greet me and a friends daughter who went with me.

I really didn't need a dog, but I was at a spot in my career where I would be home for a few months without break to train him. Barkley's sire was a National Grand Field Champion and when a coworker got one of the dog's offspring a previous litter, a great little dog, I knew I wanted one of my own. When it came time to select one from the next litter, there were 8 of them, all cute, all cuddly. How to pick? Some of them came frolicking over to me, mindlessly entertained by the smell of new shoes. Barkley just sat and looked at me, as intent as I've seen in a puppy. It was a look of hesitation, not through fear, not physically but in his little doggy spirit, that profoundly sober alertness you see in someone of quiet intelligence as they size you up.

After assessing me carefully he came over and sniffed my hand, then sat at my feet, ignoring the other people there with me, snuffling at my shoelace, while the other pups, losing interest, went off to eat a bug or something. Barkley didn't leave me the rest of the time I was there. Where I went he went. And simply sat and looked at me with satisfaction.

I told myself I wasn't going to get another dog, not going to lose my heart again. Their lifespan is too short, and my heart still ached from losing my last old dog, too soon after another death in the family, the soft release of his spirit in his last breathe against my hand as the doctor slipped the needle into his furry body.

That day, the pups too young to be separated from their Mom, I raced that 50 miles back home down country roads in an old BMW, my heart joyful for the first time in years. In a couple of more weeks I was able to fetch him, and that night as I slept, a little black lab puppy lay on my chest, soothed by the sound of my heart, still reluctant to get far from me.

I've owned several dogs in my life. All large hunting/retriever dogs or huskies. Barkley was my first dog after several years without one, living in a small citified condo while I saved for a large place of my own.
He faithfully waits for me each day that I'm out working. When I'm gone for lengthy periods, one of my two good friends either stays with him or has him over on a sleep over. All are his "pack", be they blond, brunette or redhead, male or female. When I come back, he's either out in the yard playing with kids and dogs, or sitting right by my window, alerted to the sound of the big black 4 x 4 coming up the drive.


He's pretty patient. I don't usually take him out to play as soon as I get home, needing time to unwind myself, especially if it's been a long day or one that's high stress. He'll just sit and look at me and wait, knowing that like the regular phases of the moon, I will soon put a Bass Ale or a Guinness in the fridge to cool for later or brew some tea if I'm on call. Then it's time for running with him around out back and throwing his two favorite toys, a plush bone on a string that I can throw far, or any kind of ball that he can haul around in his mouth.
Yes, as many people might say, he's just a dog. He'll never win any awards as a rocket scientist. He still sits patiently by the spot next to the counter where once a roast chicken fell on the floor, as if there's a secret poultry shrine there and if he waits long enough, another will reappear on its alter. He'll sniff anything he comes across, chase the same ball for an hour, convinced he's on some major breakthrough in retrieval tactics. And he's consumed an entire pizza, a sock, a plastic sandwich bag, a jalapeno pepper and a dead worm, all with the same gusto.


But our pets are family to many of us, and are much more than animals. They teach us about unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. They teach us to appreciate the simple things, the glint of sun off a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As Barkley goes into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard, I think how he has also pointed me to the things that matter in life. Loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.

He's seen me through good times and bad, as I him. Once while I was away, he badly injured a leg. No one is sure what happened, one minute he was playing in the back yard, jumping high for a toy and the next he was hobbling with pain. My friends were beyond concerned and hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, he'd quit eating, then drinking and my concern turned to panic. I called Tam and she came over, helping me make a little stretcher out of a rug to get him into the truck and off to the doggie hospital in the city for x-rays. It was a soft tissue injury and they kept him overnight for some hydration, some pain relief, and anti-inflammatories and he was better. But I was like a parent there, in the waiting room, the male vet tech trying to sooth me as I fought tears. He said "are you by yourself" and I sniffed," no a friend is with me" He said, I'll go find them, what do they look like "I said, look for the 6 foot, beautiful blond in the Blackwater hat pacing the lobby looking worried."

We brought him home and he was fine in a few days, but in that moment I got a portent of what it will be like to lose him someday, as I know I will. For now, he's here, the life of the party and a big part of our hearts. Yet, though dogs come and go in the course of our lifetime, yet they always stay with us. I have good memories of duck hunting with my first lab, of romps in mountain snow with my two huskies. Three dog nights, in the big old bed, a mountain storm wrapping itself around a cabin like a dark blanket.

I probably get too attached. But Barkley is family to me. Not a substitute for a relationship with another human being, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of love to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (jeans and black t-shirt again? Well if you insist Barkley), he's the soft coated Kleenex when I cry.


He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit when I'm sick, always there, even if no one else is. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes in front of the fire, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.


He's taught me that money doesn't matter, he's as happy with a beat up old toy as anything I could give him; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple, someone to love and something cold to drink, a well loved toy to play with and water.Life has changed for us, by choice. It's no longer the plush life of an upscale suburb, but a quiet existence, with less bills and more values. Life out here has taught us both a lot, myself to be more self reliant

But I love nothing more than sitting in the bed of the truck, Barkley by my side, as the night envelopes us. Some folks say they don't like the silence, needing either people or a TV around and on all the time. Barkley and I love the silence, nothing but our breathing in these open spaces. A tromp out into the corn fields with the old Belgium Browning, maybe a pheasant for dinner if we're lucky. This is all we really need, not a fancy house or 3 cars or designer clothing. We have food, family and something in the distance to chase. . .

. . .a bird or perhaps a dream.


That's all he and I need for now.

It took him a moment to size me up before he selected me, but that first night together, his little doggie heart beating against mine and his tongue licking my cheek, I was the one tasting the finiteness of life, and the inestimable chance we have to connect and love again.

Some things are just too precious to pass up even as we know we can't hold them forever.


OK, it's your birthday, you can have your own can of Tactical Bacon.

55 comments:

  1. Yay, Barkley!

    All of Man's virtues, with none of his vices.

    And that baby picture of his is cute overload. Makes me miss my old German Shepherd.

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  2. Aww.

    Happy Birthday Barkley!!!

    Dogs are good judges of a person's character and Barkley showed excellent judgement when he chose you, didn't he?

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  3. Happy Birthday, Barkley.
    Ain't no such thing as "too attached".
    YeOldFurt

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  4. Happy Birthday, Barkley!

    Have a rompin' good day!

    It looks like you have a great people family, too.

    Penny and Erik Evensen
    http://www.evensens.us/main/laepets.html

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  5. A big Happy Birthday to Barkley!
    Save a little of that Tactical bacon for me, eh?

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  6. Happy Birthday Barkley!! You and Mom have taken good care of each other over the years - keep up the good work!

    Labrador eyes...there's none other so pure and honest...so committed.

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  7. Thanks. That "soft release" of Spirit was also felt by my hand. 10 months later I still grieve that that is how I repaid the love and loyalty given to me without thought of reward.

    Chloe isn't the same (never could have been), but just as loved/loving.

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  8. Woof Woof comes into a relationship with no strings
    no questions and full of love

    A doggie treat for the birthday dog

    Go get em Barkley

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  9. Happy Birthday Barkley! Many returns!

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  10. I've never had a dog (more's the pity to me). Instead I've had a succession of cats in my married and Army life around the world. And cats, being the independent cusses they are, mostly come and go. But there are those few, those special few, that are yours, as you are theirs.
    I have lost my fair share of those Special Ones.

    So, enjoy Barkley for as long as you can. Savor each moment.
    And Barkley, Happy Birthday To You!

    B Woodman
    III-per

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  11. Happy Birthday, Barkley. We all wish you many, many more.

    Brigid, I know many good folks who don't own pets and never want any. Then I look how they raise their kids. Usually that is telling. Pets and kids are, in many ways, the same. We love them, praise them, care for them, discipline when necessary, and grieve for them when they leave us.

    I truly wonder about folks who don't have pets, and have not love for our four legged companions in life. We are not meant to travel this road alone. I pity those who do.

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  12. Happy Birthday, Barkley! May you have many, many more.

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  13. Barkley, you've got a great mom.

    I too, once again experienced the "soft release" that you so well described. Sam The Lab was just one week shy of her 16th (really, really old for a lab) birthday when after a series of fitful nights, just kept looking at us.

    Of the breads that we've had or been associated with, I think that labs are one of the few that will sit there and try to figure out what you want them to do, then do it. Which may be the wrong thing, but...

    Steve Ambrose, a fellow blogger has a great site, and a section devoted to his labs. He doe's sort of a running commentary between him and his three. Let me know if your interested, and I'll send you his link.

    Best - Don

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  14. Happy Birthday Barkley. You chose a good woman...lucky dog. Have a bacon burger on me.

    See Ya

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  15. Happy birthday, Barkley!

    There are those pets who become family, and we never forget them. You are indeed blessed.

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  16. I'm so glad Barkley decided to adopt you. They have us for such a short time, but they teach us as best they can.
    Happy Birthday Barkley. Know that your Momma loves you as much as we weak humans can.

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  17. Happy Birthday Barkley, and many many more. Dogs make life alot more worth living, thats for sure.

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  18. Happy Birthday, Barkley - tell Mom you need a hug (even if she just gave you one)!



    W/V = detic "Mom, you'll hafta de-tic me when we get back from our walk..."

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  19. I have a new German Shepherd pup, after many years without a dog. At 14 weeks, she has just had all her shots, and can explore the wide world. You are right, they make the whole world new again.

    Kookaburras , twenty-eights and bronzewings are old news from romping around the back garden, but the look on her face at seeing a pack of racing cyclists for the first time, all bright lycra and whirring wheels... it was as if she had seen a herd of unicorns.

    I didn't actually realise that I had become a little overwound the last few months, until I brought the Slayer home, and felt myself start to unwind.

    Miss Brigid, nobody ever dies, as long as we hold them in our mind's eye, and in our hearts. And nothing is ever really lost from the internet. I suspect that people will find they have 'something in their eye' in centuries yet to come, after reading your words.

    Happy Birthday, Barkley.

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  20. A birthday woof woof Barkley from Ruger and Sasha.

    Beautifully written. Like Barkley, Ruger and Sasha are part of the family, unique characters in our country home.

    There are still voids in deep places where our other canine family members have been, but are now gone.

    Dann & Judi in Ohio

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  21. What, only one can?
    Happy 7th Sir Barkley.

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  22. Between author and subject I'm not at all surprised at such love and thought.

    Jim

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  23. Happy Birthday, Barkley. Hope Mom does something great to celebrate this momentous occasion!

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  24. Happy Birthday Barkley, hope your tactical bacon was delicious.

    I just lost my dog, a 14 year old Aussie Shepard / Chow mix who was a wedding day present for me and the wife. Cute little bundle of fur, he was a very handsome pup. Been an excellent watch dog, never barking unless HE found something worth his attention, vs. fool dogs that bark when their neighbors begin barking as well. Never bothered our chickens at all, even when passing right past his nose.

    He hasn't shown up in a week since 4th of July weekend (always made himself scarce then - loud sounds bothered him to no end), and we are pretty sure he left to pass away in peace. Wife and I were going back and forth trying to decide if it was time to put him down. I think he chose for us - Rest In Peace Ringo, you'll never be forgotten.

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  25. Happy Bacon-day, Barkley.

    May you have many doggie friends to meet the next time to go to the Dog-Bark.

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  26. Happy Day, Barkley! (LOVE that name!) Blessings to you and the lovely companion you have!

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  27. Congratulations Barkley. You've done a good job training Brigid. Now go have her get you another piece of bacon and go outside and throw the ball for you.

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  28. Gooooodawg!

    Happy Brithday, Barkley.

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  29. Good post and happy birthday Barkley... :-)

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  30. My old Airedale Reagan turned 12 last week, not likely to make it to 13, Airedales seldom do...but she's had a great run, as have most of those who came before her.

    A dog, without a doubt, is man's best friend....and women's too!

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  31. Happy Birthday, Barkley! Get an unhealthy wurst, birthday boy!

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  32. Happy Birthday, Barkley! May you have a great one!

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  33. Belated Happy Birthday to Barkley and thanks to Brigid for the clear reminders of Murphy, our last Lab. Gone, but truly not forgotten.

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  34. Happy Birthday, Barkley! Tell her to cook you a steak.

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  35. B-

    As you say, dogs can get in your heart. I had a dog like that...one solitary canine that stands well above all the rest and who bonded with me every bit as deeply as any human friend. He is gone now, but never forgotten, never out of memory, and certainly never absent from the heart.

    T.

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  36. I hear you. I, too, said I wouldn't have my heart broken again by losing another dog. So, after almost 20 years, I got two, not one! Every day I look at them and remind myself that they will be with me only a short while. And as for getting too attached . . . yes, but I've come to believe that's what loving a dog is all about. And I'm the better for it.

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  37. Happy Berfday, Barkley!

    *sigh*

    I love my dog. Hell, now I love your dog!

    Corey would follow me, tail perked and his little doggie heart ready to explode, to the very ends of the Earth. He'd follow me off a cliff, and never once look at me like, "Well, THAT was stupid!"



    tweaker

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  38. Of course, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BARKLEY, I used to own big breeds and they always died early on me, with all the emotional investment, both from them and from me, I now have smaller breeds, and to my surprise, as I inherited 2 dogs I would never have chosen, a male chihuahua type dog, and a mini daschund female, the male is very intuitive, and fast as mercury, when I throw a fit, instead of cowering, he is in my lap like " what's up dude ", the female, and she was old when I got her from a cousins passing, is the sweetest best behaved little thing, except when it comes to attention, when I come home she demands it, but give her 5 minutes and shes golden.

    I would consider a labrador, if I ever get to to hunt again, I would hate to just have it in the backyard with no game to go after.

    Best wishes Barkley.

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  39. Happy Birthday to Barkley!!

    I feel the same way about my dogs...little chihuahuas, both of them, but with hearts larger than their little bodies. One is a rescue (downstairs neighbors leaving a 6 mo. old 3 lb ball of fur outside all night in the 30's...was gonna take the dog if they wouldn't give it to us) who still act like a puppy and follows me around watching me like a shadow. Both great, affectionate dogs. Better than a lot of people, in my book.

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  40. Barkley didn't leave me the rest of the time I was there. Where I went he went.

    The ones that pick you are the best!

    Happy Birthday Barkley!

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  41. Happy Birthday Barkley. May your bacon never be burned.

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  42. My Airedale, Deira, was and has been my only dog. I have an Airedale calendar and last month featured a picture of a four month old pup ... just her age when we lucked into her.

    During her 14 years, she spend most of that time raising myself, my ex and our two daughters. The first five, she spent as a pup; the middle years as a mature adult. The last years were slower but the last year wasn't good.

    Like you, I held her for the final pain and distress easing prick.

    The very happiest of birthdays for Barkley, Brigid ... and the very lickiest (luckiest?) of days for his being in your life.

    Regards.

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  43. always promised my faithful companion a big T-Bone for his birthday, then somehow it always slipped by... until no more birthdays. don't save the good treats!

    p.s. Barkley is always heart-warming, B. glad you two have one another!

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  44. Ranger and Kota send their best - but not their bacon as they're selfish little cusses.

    BTW, I thought that red triangle toy was supposed to be indestructible? *wink*

    Best birthday wishes and a good chest scritch from us!

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  45. Happy Birthday Barkley!

    --Vic303

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  46. Him a good boy! This one was painful to read; I'm getting that pressure pain behind the eyes you get when you hold the tears back. I remember my old Brit, Belle who when all her senses except smell were gone would sit in the backyard and just aim that magnificent nose into the wind. If you've never read it Google the Rainbown Bridge Poem. It gives me a mixture of comfort and sadness. I .......can't see; gotta go.

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  47. Happy 7th Birthday, Barkley!!!

    Take good care of your Mom.

    Barkley brings back many fond memories of my Black Lab "Cooper" when I was a young man. He was a great friend and companion ... I miss him.

    Gotta' go now ... my eyes are all watery. Not easy for a worn-out retired Marine.

    Semper Fi.

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  48. I strive to be the man my dog thinks I am... In truth, he's a much better person than I.

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  49. Happy Birthday Barkley!! I'll bring a belated gift next time we meet up with you and Brigid!!

    I agree with YeOldFurt-there's no such thing as too attached--the love and support in those big brown eyes is worth it.

    Four-footed family is family-of-the-heart.

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  50. A belated Happy Birthday from Trooper, Chrisi, Lu and me. May you two have many, many more together.

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  51. Happy Birthday Barkley, you handsome fellow you.
    And Happy Birthday to you next month Brigid. I'm an August arrival myself, I'll be (mfghtegh) years old.

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  52. A belated Happy Birthday to Barkley!

    Sorry it wasn't on time buddy!

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